Start by making an appointment with your physician or a travel medicine specialist who can administer vaccines specific to your travel destination and provide safe-travel advice for that part of the world.
After your appointment, confirm with your health insurance plan what costs are covered if you happen to be hospitalized or treated abroad. Get additional health insurance if your current plan doesn’t cover an event like a medical evacuation back to the United States.
Q: What vaccines do I need prior to travel?
A: It depends on where you are traveling, your personal risk for disease and your immunization history. You can find a complete guide for healthy travel, including the recommended vaccinations by country, at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.
The other advantage of seeing a physician for travel-related purposes is that we can make sure you’re up-to-date with the standard immunization schedule for U.S. citizens.
Q: I’ll be working with animals on a mission trip. Do I need to take extra precaution?
A: Get the rabies vaccination. It can actually save your life if a rabid animal bites you. The vaccine is only effective if it’s administered beforehand or within 24 hours after being bitten.
Q: What do I need to bring with me to stay healthy?
A: Carry a copy of your immunization record and a printed list of your medications – including the generic names of the drugs, so they can be easily translated if needed. Bring extra medication in the event your travel is delayed. A good rule of thumb is to carry a two-week supply of medication per week of travel. Carry a card with your blood type written down in the event of an emergency, and if you have a heart condition, carry a copy of your EKG.
And don’t forget sunscreen and insect repellant containing DEET to protect against mosquito-borne illnesses like malaria and dengue fever.
Q: I’ve heard it’s not safe to drink water outside the United States. Is this true?
A: It depends on your location. If you’re unsure about the safety of the drinking water, only use bottled, boiled or filtered water. That means avoiding ice, too. It’s safe to drink boiled coffee or tea, canned or bottled juice, soda and water, and pasteurized dairy products.
Q: What about food? Is it safe to eat like the locals?
A. When it comes to food, all meats, seafood and vegetables should be well cooked. Fresh fruit should be washed with safe drinking water and peeled to avoid consuming any unwanted organisms. These precautions will help you minimize your risk for traveler’s diarrhea and food-borne illness.
Q: Any general rules I should follow no matter where I’m traveling?
A: Don’t take risks with your health and safety when you’re traveling. One of the leading causes of death in American travelers is car accidents. It may sound obvious, but wear your seatbelt – whether you’re taking the shuttle from the airport to your hotel, or you have a rental car.
Continue with the same health precautions as you would at home, such as wearing sunscreen, limiting your alcohol intake and getting the right amount of rest.
Q: What should I do if I get sick?
A: Just because you’re outside the United States doesn’t mean you won’t have access to good medical care. If you have a choice, seek treatment at a large academic medical center (versus a small private hospital). Ask the provider to open any needles or medical tools in front of you to make sure they’re sanitary. Once you return to the United States, follow up with your primary care physician for a thorough exam.
Schedule an appointment with a travel medicine physician. Find one near you by calling 1-855-411-LWNY (5969) or visiting chpnyc.org